Friday 18 October 2019

'New National Childcare Scheme may make crisis in crèches even worse'

Early Childhood Ireland warns just 200 childminders have registered

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

Just 200 childminders out of a potential 30,000 working in Ireland have registered for the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), with just five months to go before it is implemented in October.

That's according to Early Childhood Ireland, which says the low numbers registering for the scheme will heap further pressure on crèche places as well as working parents.

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The scheme will pay a direct subsidy to parents to help pay a childminder - but that person has to be registered with family and children's agency Tusla.

As the clock ticks down on the new regulations, it is understood only a tiny fraction of childminders have come on board the initiative, meaning the subsidy could be denied to countless working parents.

According to Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), this will put "more pressure on crèches" as the number of private childminders may dwindle as a result.

"Most parents who use childminders may not be able to access the scheme because their childminder isn't regulated.

"So what we wouldn't want to see happening is if someone has a childminder and is very happy with them, we wouldn't want them to uproot their baby from that arrangement.

"We would not want that parent and that family to stop that arrangement just to access the subsidy," she said.

But she said many childminders are excluded from registering with Tusla under the current arrangements which state they must mind at least four pre-school children.

"If they only mind two children, for example, they can't register," she said.

"We already have a problem with the number of childcare places, but apart from all that, if the existing arrangement is good for that child, that should be our priority and our vision.

"What we don't want to see happening is a parent uprooting the baby and going looking for a place in a centre-based service instead of continuing with an arrangement they're happy with."

She cited the Government's First 5 strategy, unveiled last November, as an ideal model to follow when it comes to planning for future childcare needs in Ireland.

However, she said there has to be a comprehensive approach to the issue if the growing crisis is to be adequately addressed.

There must be significant capital expansion twinned with staffing expansion and it needs to be done at the same time.

Parents are grappling with a growing childcare crisis in Ireland, which means that some are having to postpone their return to the workplace after having a baby.

As revealed in the Irish Independent yesterday, the success of the separate Government-funded Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme has put the emphasis on the over-threes.

This has had a knock-on effect of squeezing out babies and toddlers from childcare facilities. It has also sparked a staffing issue within the childcare sector, given the model is changing to the ECCE, meaning lots of services shutting down for the summer, forcing workers to sign on the dole for two months.

Childcare workers are also paid the same basic wage of between €11 and €12 an hour, with no significant shift in salary between a FETAC level 6 employee or a recent graduate.

This has made it increasingly hard to retain experienced staff in the sector, with a higher proportion of childcare workers needed to run baby and toddler rooms in crèches.

The ratio is one-to-three for baby rooms, rising to one-to-eight for older children.

Deemed a huge success, there has been a 97pc rate of uptake in the ECCE scheme among pre-schoolers. This is pushing back the age of children starting school as they avail of the two pre-school years, which gives parents 15 hours of childcare a week free of charge.

Irish Independent

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